Off Topic: Understanding Jeff Vinik's bid for Channelside Bay Plaza

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik is interested in the shopping and retail complex known as Channelside Bay Plaza - the facility immediately east of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. You'd possibly heard the rumors of such, which started in late 2011. It was hard to miss the official news as it broke just before Easter.

The Channelside complex, sharing its name with the greater Channel District of downtown Tampa, is separated from Times Palace by a street and pair of parking lots. Though the facilities are not directly associated, it's hard to not see their inter-dependence.

At first glance by the casual observer, this doesn't make much sense. Why would a sports team owner have interest in buying a shopping complex? Their focus should be on the team they own and its facility, along with their own private businesses, right? Yet it's not hard to understand why further investment in the neighborhood directly surrounding the Forum would be something Vinik (and partners in this instance) would be interested in.

Major attractions need infrastructure support to be successful. I don't just mean power connections, telecommunications, water/sewage connections, and transportation options to and from the facility for potential customers. Infrastructure goes beyond that: you need to provide options for patrons.

You want your venue to attract people not just for the sporting events that transpire within (or the concerts, or the conventions), but to associate the area in general with a positive experience that offers multiple options for dining, entertainment and retail that you can't get elsewhere.

When an arena venue (and baseball as well) has nothing surrounding it besides parking lots, it's seen as a detraction through the isolation of the building. It's why suburban stadiums and arenas aren't the most popular venues out there; there is nothing there sans the stadium itself.

By investing in Channelside Bay Plaza, Vinik would be protecting his investment in the Lightning and the Tampa Bay Times Forum as well as bolstering the profile of Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment LLC (his holding company). How "protecting" it? By being in control of the retail space, by being able to dictate how the venue operates, what type of establishments are lured to the plaza, etc. He would also be able to market it directly to fans who flock to Times Palace..

In a comparison experience, look at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles, California. The Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) owned complex didn't exist before Staples Center, just as Channelside Plaza didn't exist before the Forum was constructed. LA Live is tied almost directly to Staples Center, and that entire area of Downtown LA (including the Nokia Theater and LA Convention Center) is seen as a complete entertainment destination.

A LA Live-type direction, however, would contradict the Channel District's wants at the moment. With few businesses in the plaza catering to the local residents needs (and with these businesses missing in general from downtown), it was no wonder that a recent Tampa Bay Times article cited a grocery store and other "mom and pop" businesses as a bigger need for the facility than anything else.

Vinik's group is just one of three publicly known suitors trying to obtain control of the facility. Owners of local facilities comparable to Channelside Bay Plaza (Bill Edwards who owns St. Petersburg's BayWalk; M&J Wilkow LTD. Which owns Centro Ybor) are two of the rumored three other bidders. All three known-groups have their strengths. It's up to others - the Tampa Port Authority and Irish Bank Resolution Corp. to decide who ends up with control of Channelside Bay Plaza.

(This post was derived from a message forum post I wrote at Skyscrapercity's Tampa / St. Petersburg Forum. Further discussion of Channelside Bay Plaza on that forum can be found here.)